Monthly Archives: January 2013

“City of a Hundred Fires” by Richard Blanco— Coming of Age

city

Blanco, Richard. “City of a Hundred Fires” (Pitt Poetry Series), University of Pittsburgh, 1998.

Coming of Age

Amos Lassen

Before being chosen to read a poem at the inauguration of President Obama, I am pretty sure that Richard Blanco was just another obscure name. Now he has achieved national, if not international prominence so it is only natural that we go back and have a look at him, “City of a Hundred Fires” was his first book length collection of poetry and it takes us on a journey into Cuban-American society and we watch as it comes of age. Those involved here and bilingual children of Cubans whose lives and personalities have been fed by both American and Cuban culture—their parents’ nostalgia and their own very real lives as Americans. Blanco, himself, was born in Madrid but his parents are Cuban and he was raised in the United States. He therefore can understand the mix of cultures within himself and is able to show us this in beautiful evocative poetry that brims with description. There are three aspects to his life and this is what we read in his poems: learning about and adapting to the culture of America, translating what this all means, and maintaining his own Cuban roots. This is the poetry of exile that is filled with image and rhythm and in them he shares the truth of the Cuban-American experience. We feel love, we feel loss and we feel hope. There is both vibrancy and diversity here and the book of poems becomes a document of culture and a testimony to those who share the duality of the two countries.

Blanco sees Cuba through his parents’ exile as it comes to terms racially and culturally with America, or specifically Miami. This is poetry about the reality of being a culture uprooted, the price of exile and the new life in a new place. There is conflict and there is nostalgia and we see what it means to the poet to grow up in Miami with that hyphenated experience. He pulls us into the poems and we feel that what is said here is the product of two peoples living side-by-side inside yet another person and we see Cuba of the 1950’s as well as Blanco reaching maturity and coming of age in his new home…and it is all quite exciting.

 

 

 

“Directions to the Beach of the Dead” by Richard Blanco— Home

directions

Blanco, Richard, “Directions to the Beach of the Dead(Camino del Sol)”, University of Arizona Press, 2005.

Home

Amos Lassen

Richard Blanco explores the familiar yet disorienting journey home in “Directions to the Beach of the Dead”, his second book length collection of poetry. He writes of the restlessness that, in a sense, threatens his ability to stay in one place—there are many other places but too little time, he says. Here is a book about home and for all of us who want to find a home. It found the poems so identifiable as I think of my own life as I have tried to find the place to call home—New Orleans, Israel, Arkansas, Boston—I am the son of parents of exile and yet I am still looking for that place that I can call, truly, my home. Just as Blanco lives with a hyphen, Cuban-American, so do I, Jewish-Israeli-American and thus his poetry really speaks to me.

Blanco takes us through the stages of his life–“ engineer by day, poet by heart, the rhythms of Spanish, the percussion of English, first-world professional, immigrant, gay man, the straight world”. He wants to know why he cannot just live where he lives. Reading Blanco actually seemed a bit voyeuristic to me as if I was encroaching on his innermost thoughts. He is intimate and personal and yet we take on the characters that he writes of. Blanco writes with vulnerability and with strength and these two qualities balance each other and expose us to his emotions of longing.

As we accompany Blanco on his journey to find his home, we go into his past, share his present and hope for his future. We venture in and out of memory; we hear his father’s stories, we hear the son’s reactions and we feel the love. We go where he goes and we meet his lovers, his family and his friends. Here is poetry that speaks to us and to our sensibilities and we enter a communion with the poet.

 

 

Palestinians Cheer Oscar Nod for Anti-Occupation Film ‘5 Broken Cameras’

Palestinians Cheer Oscar Nod for Anti-Occupation Film ‘5 Broken Cameras’

Film Draws Emotional Reaction in West Bank Premiere

Two Eyes, ‘5 Cameras’: An unusually candid window on Palestinian life under occupation has won an Oscar nomination. It debuted to cheers in Ramallah.

courtesy of sundance film festival
Two Eyes, ‘5 Cameras’: An unusually candid window on Palestinian life under occupation has won an Oscar nomination. It debuted to cheers in Ramallah.

Oscar-nominated documentary “5 Broken Cameras” screened for Palestinians for the first time on Monday, leaving locals hopeful that their struggle with Israel for land and statehood will gain a global audience.

The low-cost film is based on five years of amateur camera work by journalist Emad Burnat as he documented weekly protests against land seizures by Israeli forces and Jewish settlers in his village of Bil’in in the occupied West Bank.

Neighbours are killed in the protests and demolition equipment mars the landscape while the filmmaker captures his infant son’s rapid loss of innocence, heralded by his first words: “wall” and “army.”

“This is a film for those who were martyred. It’s bigger than me and bigger than Bil’in. More than a billion people follow the Oscars and they will know our struggle now,” Burnat said after the viewing.

His work will compete at next month’s Oscar ceremony against four other films, including a documentary called “The Gatekeepers” that looks at the decades-old Middle East conflict through the eyes of six top former Israeli intelligence bosses.

Although the perspective is very different, both movies share a surprisingly similar message – the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is morally wrong and must end.

Burnat’s film received a standing ovation at its premier in Ramallah, the Palestinians’ administrative capital, with the audience excited to see their seemingly endless conflict splashed on the big screen.

“The film shows the whole world what occupation is. It wiped the happiness off the boy’s face at too young an age. This has been the experience for all of us,” said taxi driver Ahmed Mustafa, who brought his wife and child to the viewing

“It’s not all bad though. It shows that there is progress, there are victories, and that our cause is still alive and moving,” he said.

In 2007, Israel’s High Court ruled that the separation barrier built on Bil’in lands was illegal and ordered it rerouted, cheering activists. The ruling was finally implemented in 2011, but the protests continue.

ISRAELI CO-DIRECTION

Humble villagers in black-and-white chequered Palestinian scarves and smartly dressed city dwellers shared the same visceral reaction to scenes in the film that are much chronicled but seldom appear in feature-length film.

A shot of olive trees reduced to glowing embers after being torched by Jewish settlers coaxes an audible gasp from viewers.

“Oh God!” said one man.

But as Burnat’s camera captures defiant chants in the protagonists’ village accent, or rocks being hurled at fleeing Israeli jeeps, ecstatic applause filled the hall.

The film was co-directed by an Israeli activist and filmmaker, Guy Davidi. This close association has led some people to classify 5 Broken Cameras as an Israeli movie and it was rejected by a Morocco film festival for this reason.

However, Burnat said it had been shown in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries and denied that the joint production reflected any meaningful “normalisation” of relations between Israel and the Palestinians.

“(Davidi) is a solidarity activist who came to the village to show his support. He was shown our material and agreed to help. This doesn’t represent Israeli-Palestinian collaboration,” Burnat said.

But the film’s action shows many examples of cooperation between Israeli solidarity activists and locals.

An Israeli photographer gives Burnat one of his five cameras, which are progressively shot or crushed in protests over the years, giving the film its name, and Israeli solidarity activists are shown helping to plan protests in Hebrew.

“Working jointly with an Israeli doesn’t diminish this work, it enhances it,” Palestinian student Amira Daood told Reuters.

“They’re not all against us. Some are opposed to what Israel is doing and the movie demonstrates that,” she said.

“BEAR CITY”— Now on Blu Ray

bear-city

BearCity”

Now on Blu Ray

Amos Lassen

I originally reviewed this film when it first was released by TLA Releasing but I have just received word that it is now coming to us in Blu Ray for a finer picture and extensive special features. This is one of those feel good movies that will have you laughing and crying as well as giving us non-bears a look at bears and how they live.

Bear City” is a romantic comedy set in the bear scene of New York City. It looks at a group of close-knit friends and their adventures as bears. The cast is diverse, the comedy is wonderful and the film is a lot of fun. Directed by Douglas Langway we come face to face with hairy bears and their lovers and we come to another subculture of the larger gay community. Tyler (Joe Conti) announces that he has fallen in love with an older man who happens to be a bear and his nelly roommate is in a state of shock. For many gay men, bears are off limit even though they can’t really define why they feel that way. Tyler is a “twink” who enters the bear den searching for love and it is great fun. Yet there is a message here—and that is one of acceptance.

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I love the fact that the movie introduces us to the bear culture by giving us a story about some very large, hairy men who live and love together. The guys we meet are navigating their way through life and do so without losing who they are. When Tyler enters the group, he has no clue how wonderful these guys are going to be to him and he soon becomes one of the guys. Of course, Tyler falls in love and with one hunky muscle bear named Roger (Gerald McCullouch). The sexual tension they provide is wonderful and it gives the film a feeling of reality. It is a film that once again shows us the price to be paid to fit into what society expects of us and how it is possible to continue to exist even while not fitting in. We also see the value of friendship and how friends take care of each other….and hey; there are some great comedic moments as well. The feeling you get from the film is about the importance of friends, something we too often forget.

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There is no pretence here and we become very aware of the problems and issues of the bear community and the characters are representative of that community’s members. We see that they have the same problems as everyone else and we are all in this together.

The special features on the blu ray include:

Out of the Woods”—a documentary on the making of the film

Commentary with the director and writer, Doug Langway, Lawrence Ferber, co-writer, Stephen Guarino who plays Brent and Greg Gunter who plays Michael.

Music Video of Michael Mirlas’s “Puppy Dog Eyes”

Homopop Interview

Photo Gallery

Theatrical Trailer

And a new featurette, “Bear Silly: Caught with Our Pants Down”—bloopers and cast and crew interviews.

“MICHAEL SCHENKER—TEMPLE OF ROCK: LIVE IN EUROPE”— A Live Concert

temple of rock

Michael Schenker – Temple Of Rock: Live In Europe (2012)”

A Live Concert

Amos Lassen

Michael Schenker (lead guitar), Doogie White (vocals), Herman Rarebell (drums), Francis Buchholz (bass) and Wayne Findley (rhythm guitar and keyboards) bring us a love concert from Tilberg, the Netherlands now on DVD. It was recorded in May, 2012 so it is almost brand new. This is Michael Schenker at his best in a real tour de force performance. He is right on everything, note for note and the band is with him all the way. Joining Schenker are ex-Scorpions and the music has rarely been better.

I am not often at a loss for words in describing a DVD but I must say that I am struggling here. I would go so far as to say that this is probably the most amazing DVD of a concert I have ever seen.

Michael Schenker, one of the planet’s greatest guitar players, sounds better than most people on any given night. He has a multitude of live recordings to enjoy and his talent is always amazing. There haven’t been many of those live recorded moments of Michael Schenker’s when he was captured on a truly “ON” night and on this DVD, all is out and it may very well be the greatest “on” moment of his career.

Technically the sound is excellent and the shots of Schenker doing solos are incredible. Also we see Schenker take liberties with some of his more traditional songs and breathe new life into them. The DVD also includes bonus tracks from the 2011 High Voltage Festival with Michael Voss (vocals), plus awe-inspiring guest appearances from Schenker’s friends and musical companions including his brother Rudolf Schenker (The Scorpions), ex-Journey singer Jeff Scott Soto, and UFO bassist Pete Way.

I read where one reviewer here referred to this as Schenker’s swan song and I must say that I hope that is not the case. We never want to see his music stop.

A Home of Our Own–a New Gay Movie Theater

Krave Massive and Guest House Films Partner

To Launch LGBT Movie Theater in World’s Biggest Gay Nightclub

 (LOS ANGELES) – Soon to become the world’s biggest gay nightclub, Krave Massive announced today a new partnership with Guest House Films, a Los Angeles-based film production and distribution company, to open an LGBT movie theater within the nightclub.  Officially known as Guest House Theaters at Krave Massive, the movie theater will launch in conjunction with the nightclub’s official grand opening this Spring and will feature two screens dedicated to showing LGBT films year-round.

 Guest House Films co-founders Rob Williams and Rodney Johnson will be responsible for programming films for the theaters.  They will work with fellow filmmakers and distributors to book a diverse collection of gay-themed feature films, ranging from the latest crowd-pleasers to retrospectives of the works of gay directors and special screenings of popular LGBT films from the past.  In addition, filmgoers will have a chance to meet filmmakers and actors at select screenings.  The theaters are scheduled to be open four nights a week, Wednesday through Saturday.

 Having produced six highly popular indie gay films in the past seven years, launched a successful distribution operation for gay-themed films, and established strong relationships with LGBT film festivals and distributors, Guest House Films is ideally suited to identify the best films available in this genre and work with Krave Massive to bring them to Las Vegas audiences.

 “When I first met with Kelly Murphy and learned about his plans for Krave Massive, I was immediately caught up in his infectious desire to create and promote the best entertainment for our community,” said Johnson. “His goals are closely aligned with what Guest House Films is doing, so a collaboration to bring the finest in gay cinema to Las Vegas just seemed a natural fit right from the beginning.”

 “This is an exciting opportunity not only for Las Vegas moviegoers to see a wide variety of LGBT films on the big screen, but also for filmmakers to secure a theatrical screening for their work and reach a new audience outside of the traditional film festival circuit,” said Williams.  “We know how hard it can be to get a gay-themed movie into a ‘mainstream’ theater, so we look forward to working with Krave Massive to help both new and established filmmakers gain exposure for their movies in a theater whose sole mission is to support LGBT films.”

 “Our partnership with Guest House Films is just another element that will help to make Krave Massive a truly unique entertainment experience for the community,” Murphy said. “We are excited to feature these great films and bring LGBT nightlife to the next level with what our venue will offer.”

 When Krave Massive opens, it will take over the space formerly occupied by the 14-screen, 80,000-square-foot Galaxy 11 multiplex on the third floor of Downtown Las Vegas’ Neonopolis on historic Fremont Street, located one floor above Drink & Drag. Krave Las Vegas is currently being hosted at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino’s Crown Theater and Nightclub, prior to it reopening as Krave Massive.

 Krave Massive will host five different themed dance rooms, each featuring a distinct musical flavor, for fans of House, Top 40, Hip-Hop, Country, and Latin music.

 For more information on Guest House Films, visit www.guesthousefilms.com orwww.facebook.com/guesthousefilms, or follow Guest House Films on Twitter (@guesthousefilms). For more information on Krave Massive, visitwww.kravemassive.com or www.kravelasvegas.com, or call (323) 386-2300, ext. 1.

 About Guest House Films

Founded by Rob Williams and Rodney Johnson in 2005, Guest House Films LLC has quickly become one of the industry’s most prolific and acclaimed independent gay film production and distribution companies.  It has produced six films to date, including Long-Term RelationshipBack Soon3-Day WeekendMake the Yuletide GayRole/Play andThe Men Next Door.  In 2011, it became the newest LGBT film distributor with the release of Role/Play, and in 2012, it kicked off the successful release of its short-film compilation series with Black Briefs and Blue Briefs. Last November, the company also released the touching and inspiring Australian documentary, The Doctor’s Wife, on DVD.

“BULLET COLLECTOR”— An Intense Tale of Russian Youth

BulletCollectorDVD1

“BULLET COLLECTOR”

 An Intense Tale of Russian Youth

Amos Lassen

Artsploitation is a new DVD releasing company that is now bringing us some very notable films, all of which are reviewed here (“Gandu”, “Vanishing Waves”, “Hard Romanticker”, etc.). These are films with an edge and probably otherwise would not get a chance to see. “Bullet Collector” marks the debut film of Russian director Alexander Vartanov that explores the traumas of a 14 year old boy who has to deal with a terrible home life which is dominated by an angry mother and a stepfather who cannot stand him. His life as school is no better; he is taunted and attacked brutally. When he is sent to reform school his life gets even worse and he loses himself in a world of fantasy where he has a beautiful girlfriend and is able to defeat those who oppress him.

Vartanov sees beauty in the situations our boy is in and he gives us a very rare drama about prison. Our young hero is angelic in appearance with blonde curls but with a vacant look in his eyes. We watch as he moves from his abusive home life to juvenile prison which is actually a Russian labor camp. The regime he endures is brutal but he is able to rise above it all. Visually this is an amazing film to watch with some very fine acting. It is the director’s eye for detail and poetry that exists in life at the camp that holds us. Filmed in black and white, we see the starkness of life and we return to the wonderful Russian cinema of the 1970’s. I absolutely found the way that Vartanov combines brutality with innocence and youthful incomprehension to be stunning.

With the DVD release we have the treats of these extras:

 -Trailer

-Making of featurette

-Cast audition interviews

-Deleted scene

-12-page collectable booklet

 

“SUPERPOWER”— The Quest for Global Dominance

superpower

“Superpower”

The Quest for Global Dominance

Amos Lassen

 “Superpower”, a new documentary from Cinema Libre shows how the United States has found its way to insure its position “for unilateral world domination through absolute economic and military superiority and government deception”. Do we find this statement disturbing? If we look carefully at the way it is worded, it tends to reminds us of why we were in the cold war and against whom. Taking a broad view from history, this film brings us a new focus and on modern times. Using a series of interviews with experts in their fields, we learn something new about our country and even more surprising is the nature of those interviewed. Through what they have to say, we see the future of America and it is disturbing. As Americans, we need to know our history and have the mission and the courage to change it. Even with the darkest of truths that we find here, we do have some hope from people who will try to change things for future generations of Americans.

This is Barbara-Anne Steegmuller’s film and it gives us a complete look at American economic and military policies since the Second World War What we see here is a diorama of America’s “Grand Strategy” with the military-industrial complex as its focus and heart. “The role of Grand Strategy—higher strategy—is to coordinate and direct all the resources of a nation, or band of nations, towards the attainment of the political object of the war—the goal defined by fundamental policy”. These are the words of B.H, Liddell Hart, military historian and they set the scene and tone of the film. Other interviews include noted experts and activists—Noam Chomsky, Eric Haney, founder of Delta Force, the counterterrorist arm of the U.S. Army, Karen U. Kwiatkowski, critic of United States involvement in Iraq. What we see here is what truly is behind the driving force of this country’s foreign policy.

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In 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower made this statement in his farewell address—

 “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence whether sought or unsought by the military industrial complex; the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced powers exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic process.” It seems as if no one heard or if they did, they have paid no attention to it. We still see that American imperialism is shaping the world some fifty years after this speech was given. Haney says that what we are really doing is enforcing the rule of oligarchy and in the process killing off peasants. Dr. Chalmers Johnson shows us that in order to achieve world domination, we would need some 35 to 40 big and expensive military bases and we actually have 737.

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With the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has emerged as the eminent world superpower. This film shows us by going behind the scenes of the security apparatus and military operations that we are on a quest for global dominance. Using the analysis of American foreign policy presented here, we see where this country stands internationally and learn that this is in definite contrast to what mainstream media and heads of state lead us to believe.

“Fanny: A Fiction” by Edmund White— Shifting Gears

fanny

White, Edmund. “Fanny: A Fiction”, Harper Perennial, 2004.

Shifting Gears with Edmund White

Amos Lassen

Edmund White gives us quite a surprise with “Fanny” as we leave gay fiction and nonfiction behind and meet two extraordinary women from the 19th century. It is through them that we explore what is idealism, what constitutes a hero and how the American Dreams rests as an illusion over our heads.

Mrs. Frances Trollope (Franny) is in her fifties and is the author of a book which attacks the United States. The book made her famous but it is now some 25 years later and she is ready to write another book, one that again will be controversial but this time she tackles the biography of an old friend, the radical feminist, Fanny Wright. Thinking about Fanny, Franny remembers her ideas of utopia and the fact that it was Fanny who talked her into coming to America and the relationship between the two women.

White pulls off quite a literary coup here by giving us a novel within a memoir that includes the stories of two women, Fanny and Franny. Franny was regarded as the maven of domestic manners of Americans and Fanny was, as stated above, a utopian feminist. Not only had she caused Franny to come to this country, she had a scheme to abolish marriage and solve racism here at Neshoba, a community that she had founded in Tennessee. Now Franny is 76 with failing health and memory has written yet another book about her life in America some 30 years earlier after Fanny had left her almost at the moment they arrived. Franny was left to take care of herself and her children and companion, Auguste. In writing about Fanny, she realizes that her idea of humanism came at the expense of humanity.

While Franny wrote about Fanny, White concentrates of Franny Trollope—“caustic, witty, self-aware, genteelly impoverished, cursed with a cold, hypochondriac husband”. Her first book has become a classic and she has struggled to remain civilized as she went through some uncivilized experiences. It is her travels that take center stage but there is also her affair with Cudgo, an ex-slave who she began to love in Ohio. Edmund White, through Franny, shows us the power of domestic manners. Franny, a critic of American life, was the mother of Anthony Trollope, the novelist. Fanny was an aristocrat who believed in and advocated for the equality of all people. She became involved in the abolition of slavery. Using Franny Trollope’s biography of Fanny Wright we move back and forth between fiction and nonfiction with the introduction of famous historical characters (Lafayette, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison) and as we read the biography becomes Trollope’s memoir and what she and Wright went through together in Neshoba.

While this may seem like a departure for White, we soon realize that what Edmund White is doing here is showing us that he is skilled in all forms of literature and that he is ready and able to write them all. But then again, he might just be playing with us and I could not help but wonder if Trollope was not White himself relaying to us gossip and opinions about life in the new world. We certainly see the details of the life of a person during the period in which they lived and we become very aware of what happens within a minority that lusts for equality which is something that those who have worked in the gay movement know all too well. I had the feeling that White was telling us to re-examine our history.

White’s writings have been very important, both historically and emotionally, for the gay community and now that he has departed from that a bit, the rest of society get the chance to share in his writing. Here the story moves between biography written almost as autobiography and narration with comedy. There is only one very small gay reference here and it is not fleshed out.

Fanny” is so beautifully written that it pulls us in and holds us making us want to read it in one sitting. Add to that, the fact that I had never heard of Fanny Wright or Frances Trollope and so I learned something as well.

Fanny: A Fiction”, it seems to me, is about the changing and tumultuous geo-political landscape of America during the 1820’s with its religious fervor, and the evangelism of the mid-west. At the same time, Fanny is trying to create a society which outlaws marriage, where the races are equal and where the spirituality is eschewed. Frances gives us her observations of the New World and they are filled with fact and humor. Once again, we see what a national treasure we have in Edmund White.

“Skinned Alive” by Edmund White— Erotic, Heartbreaking Stories

skinned alive

White, Edmund. “Skinned Alive: Stories”, Vintage, 1996.

Erotic, Heartbreaking Stories

Amos Lassen

When “Skinned Alive” was published in 1996, it was the first fiction to come from Edmund White in eight years. We were ready for some more White and he did not disappoint. There are eight stories here, three of which are autobiographical. We immediately sense that something has changed in the writer’s prose and that is in the use of more restraint which we will see soon.

I have read that some feel that there is too much White in these stories that they are too self-centered but I find that while White has become something of an expatriate that is not the basis for what we have here. The fact that he is willing to include himself in with the other characters, for me, at least, is validation what others might call stories that are too far out. White’s presence brings them home. Whether he writes about rediscovering passion or just being alive or considering mortality, there is a magic in these stories that shows us how life changes. We become aware of the gulfs between people that exist in human relationships and while we may not be able to deal with them, we must acknowledge that they are there.

So what is the restraint that I mentioned earlier? In getting older, we tend to exercise restraint because physically and emotionally we cannot do what we once did. White does not tell us stories, he shows them to us and he does so in gorgeous prose. To say any more would be to deprive someone of a unique reading experience and so I remain mum.